Reading time: 5 minutes
Imagine that you have an internal control center that ensures peace and relaxation in your body: This is the role of the vagus nerve, a true control center for your health. In this article we will show you how you can bring more relaxation and serenity into your life with three simple vagus nerve exercises.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is one of the most important nerves in your body and plays a crucial role in your well-being. It belongs to the so-called parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and regeneration in your body. Its extensive connections and diverse functions make it a key element in the regulation of physiological processes.
The vagus nerve is the tenth and longest nerve in the cranial nervous system and is not named so for nothing: "vagus" means "wandering" in Latin. In fact, the nerve runs through large parts of your body and connects the brain to many organs, including the heart, lungs and intestines.
Its main function is to regulate the activity of these organs and respond to stress reactions. The vagus nerve plays a major role in controlling your body's automatic and unconscious functions. These include, for example, your feeling of hunger or your breathing.
How does the vagus nerve work?
As part of the so-called parasympathetic nervous system, the “resting nerve”, the vagus nerve acts like a calming signal. For example, it signals to your body when it is time to switch to rest and digest mode. When the vagus nerve is active, it slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and controls activity in the gastrointestinal tract. It is also centrally involved in controlling the inflammatory response in the body and influences your metabolism and immune system.
According to neurotrainer Kevin Grafen, the following key functions belong to the vagus nerve:
- Slowing heart rate and modulating blood pressure
- Reducing breathing rate and promoting deep breathing
- Stimulates saliva production and supports digestive processes
- Regulation of inflammatory processes through the release of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine
An active function of the vagus nerve is therefore essential for relaxation and serenity. This is particularly relevant in the treatment of stressful conditions, anxiety, pain and certain heart diseases.
Why should I activate the vagus nerve?
Activation of the vagus nerve is closely linked to relaxation responses. A well-functioning vagus nerve can help you better manage stress by allowing your body to transition from a state of tension to a state of relaxation more quickly. The result: The pulse drops, breathing becomes slower and deeper, blood pressure is lowered and digestion is stimulated.
Your emotions and social skills are also linked to your health, as it promotes the release of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin. This can increase your ability to bond and trust other people.
3 vagus nerve exercises for more relaxation
You can easily stimulate your vagus nerve every day with the following exercises. Experiment with the exercises presented and find out which ones are most effective for you. If you do the following exercises regularly, you can bring more relaxation and serenity into your life and thus sustainably improve your well-being.
Exercise 1: Triangular breathing
To activate the vagus nerve, neuroscientist DirkSchauberg particularly recommends slow, long inhalations and exhalations. By breathing in and out in a targeted manner, you can stimulate the vagus nerve and thus increase its calming effect on your body.
This is how it works: In this exercise you will learn what is known as triangular breathing. Think of this breathing technique like a triangle, with each side of the triangle given the same unit of time. In practice it looks like this:
- Inhale for 3 seconds
- Hold your breath for 3 seconds
- Breathe out for 3 seconds
As you breathe, pay attention to the rise and fall of your abdominal wall. The even pattern has a calming effect and is good when you are very stressed. If necessary, you can increase the number of seconds. Can you do 6 seconds on each side of the triangle?
Tool tip: You can use a breathing trainer to check whether your breaths are even. This creates a sound when you breathe in. If this changes, you know for sure that you are breathing in too hard or too weakly.
Frequency: To get the most benefit from this breathing exercise, you should make time for it regularly. For example, in the morning after getting up or in the evening before going to bed. To start, try repeating the triangle breathing 3 times. Increase the number as needed until you feel noticeably calmer. Stop the exercise if you feel dizzy.
2. Active diaphragmatic breathing
Have you ever watched yourself breathing? When you breathe in, does your chest or stomach rise? Abdominal breathing is the more effective of the two because it allows more air and therefore more oxygen to enter the body. It is also the more natural breathing technique of the two as it requires less energy. So if you unconsciously tend to breathe through your chest, try consciously switching to abdominal breathing every now and then.
This is how it works: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Push your pelvis backwards. Place your hands on your stomach. Now breathe consciously through your stomach. Feel your stomach lift into your hands. Inhale until your stomach has fully expanded outwards. Then breathe out forcefully through your mouth.
Tool tip: To improve your own awareness, you can put a breathing belt on yourself. This allows you to concentrate precisely on the movements of your abdominal area.
Frequency: If you make sure to breathe through your stomach every now and then, you will unconsciously do this exercise all day long. During strenuous activities such as sports or heavy lifting, the body automatically activates both breathing movements in parallel.
3. Massage the ear pocket
You can also activate the vagus nerve using various massage techniques. Gently running your fingers along the side of your neck can have a relaxing effect. Circular finger movements with light pressure on the jaw joint can relieve tension in the neck.
Massage exercises on the ear can also help. More precisely, on the so-called ear pocket. This is the area of skin on the inside of the auricle, below the characteristic fold of cartilage.
Here's how it works: Place a finger in the ear pocket and make slow, circular movements. This way you can also activate the vagus nerve. You can of course do the exercise on both ears at the same time.
Tool tip: A vibration pen is ideal for targeting the small ear pocket. Thanks to the vibration of the device, the massage happens automatically.
Frequency: You can also do this little massage in the morning and evening. In combination with triangular breathing, you have a real little vagus nerve workout that lets you start the day relaxed in the morning and prepares you for a restful sleep in the evening.
All vagus nerve exercises at a glance
You can find all the exercises and other tips in the video. Explained in detail by neurotrainer Yassin Jebrini and physiotherapist Berengar Buschmann:
With the right exercises, you can activate your vagus nerve every day. This way you can help yourself start the day relaxed in the morning and fall asleep better in the evening. Be willing to experiment and find out for yourself how the breathing exercises work best for you.
By the way: Social health can also activate your vagus nerve. Loneliness and social isolation are also high stress factors for the body and mind. Regular contact with people you care about can boost your self-confidence and even your immune system.
Therefore: Call a friend again and ask how he or she is doing. Meet with your family. Plan community activities with others. The vagus nerve and your daily well-being will thank you.